Authors: Taylor Stevens
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Taylor Stevens
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
CROWN and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The doll: a novel / Taylor Stevens.—1st ed.
1. Women private investigators—Fiction. 2. Suspense fiction. I. Title.
Jacket design by Eric White
With love and gratitude to the other Bradford. Always.
Palms to the glass, watching the lot from his office window, Miles Bradford saw her topple. The fall was a slow-motion sort of thing, the type of tilt and drop that made him hesitate, unsure for a long second whether to laugh or worry. He held his breath, urging her up. Any second now, knowing he was there, she’d turn toward the building and wave. They’d laugh about it later.
But she didn’t move. Made no attempt to edge out from beneath the motorcycle that pinned her leg to the pavement. Didn’t even raise her head.
Seeing though not understanding, moving as if treading water, Bradford backed away from the window. Then turned and bolted out of the office, down the hall, and past reception. Bypassed the elevators for the stairs, took the five floors at a run, and emerged from the stairwell into the lobby, where he pushed through the big glass doors only to find an ambulance blocking the northern lot access and Munroe on a stretcher, being lifted into its interior.
Bradford yelled, swung his arms to attract the attention of the paramedics so they would wait a moment longer, and allow him time to get across the lot so he could ride with her. But they never turned, never looked. The stretcher slid inward, the doors shut, and Bradford ran again, racing the distance, arriving seconds too late.
The ambulance, siren blaring, pulled out onto the service road.
The Ducati lay on its side, shoved slightly from where she’d been pulled from underneath, engine off and keys still in the ignition. He stooped and heaved the bike upright. Straddled the machine, hit neutral with his foot, punched his thumb into the starter button, and compressed the clutch handle only to find that the impact with the pavement had snapped it off.
He swore and stared in the direction the ambulance had traveled, frustrated and motionless, catching his breath, processing, while the wail faded and traffic began to flow again. Had he run directly for a car instead of the ambulance, he might have had a chance to chase it down, but he was too late for that now. Bradford glanced back toward the building, where the small crowd of onlookers had already begun to disperse.
Two decades of working in the line of fire, of watching his back and chasing images from shadows, and he still had the tendency to think like a civilian on his home turf. What were the odds that one of the people on the ground floor had made the call and an ambulance had been close by? Not impossible, but not highly likely, either.
Bradford dismounted and rolled the Ducati to the garage, to the out-of-the-way nook Munroe typically stashed it, and then jogged back to the lobby with the mental tape of her fall playing inside his head. Watched her jerk and then glance down, saw her pause and the way her left hand had wandered over her thigh, the long hesitation before she slumped and toppled. Hers weren’t the motions—the sudden drop, the collapse—of someone passing out.
At the elevator he jammed a finger into the up arrow and ran through a list of possible alternatives—allergies, medical conditions, recent sicknesses—and drew one blank after another.
By the time Bradford returned to his floor, he’d gone through the replay a dozen times, more frustrated with each rewind. He pushed through the wide doors that separated Capstone Security Consulting from the hallway, crossed the plush reception area with its rich furnishings and oversize logo—corporate tokens that implied something other than the blood-and-guts outfit beyond the wood-paneled wall—and came to a full stop at the reception desk and Samantha Walker who sat behind it.
She stared up at him with her big brown eyes and the same
give me the sitrep
look she always got when his stress level soared. “What the hell was that all about?” she said. “You look like death paid a visit. Talk to me.”
Bradford ignored her with a vacant half-smile and leaned across the desk for the Post-it stack. What else could he do? Tell her that based on his gut and a ten-second memory loop that wouldn’t stop, he was pretty sure the woman he loved had just been tranqued and shoved into an ambulance?
He scribbled the few digits he’d caught off the plates when the vehicle had peeled out onto the service road and, with eyes still on the pad, said, “Where’s the closest emergency room?”
“Medical City and Parkland.”
“Call them, will you? Find out if Michael’s there?”
She gave him that look again, then reached for the mouse and her monitor came alive. “Am I calling about Michael or some other name?” she asked.
“Michael,” he said. Because unless Munroe was working, that’s who her ID said she was, but the inquiry sent his mind bolting in two directions, and while Walker searched for numbers, he forced thought fragments and scattered images into a coherent question: He’d watched Vanessa Michael Munroe being lifted into the ambulance, but to those who’d done the lifting, was it Michael they’d taken or another of her incarnations?
He struggled to draw from the ether some sense of why, of who would have had the means and motive to put her into that ambulance, and, more important, how she’d been traced. Munroe had surely made enemies in her life, trading secrets and buying souls, but she’d worked with disguises and aliases, had stayed away from home for so many years, that there were few who knew who she truly was or how to find her.
Walker cleared her throat, picked up the phone, and gave Bradford a decided stare that said she’d make the calls but not while he stood there listening and micromanaging.
He moved to get out of her way, swiped a key card through a scanner.
A segment of wall to the right of the desk clicked open a sliver. Bradford pushed against it and stepped through. Beyond the paneling, the interior hallways and facing walls were glass, with privacy blinds kept open, giving the entire floor a sense of light and space.
He moved past the offices to what most businesses would consider a conference area but which was to Capstone the war room, the nerve center, the place from which the business tendrils reached out for thousands of miles to support and supply the private security gigs running at any given time.
There was no door, only a frame where one used to be, and at one of the desks facing a wall of oversize monitors, Paul Jahan swiveled away from a keyboard.
Bradford nodded, said, “Hey, Jack,” and handed him the Post-it. “Dallas Fire-Rescue plates. Can you run them?”
Jahan took the purple square with its three handwritten digits, gave it a look, and then stuck it to the nearest monitor. “Give me a minute,” he said. “I’ll see what I can get.”
In the ensuing silence, Bradford strode to the marked-up whiteboards that functioned on the right wall as the monitors did on the left. He followed the note changes, minor updates on the two-man team in Peshawar, but read them without really seeing. His mind was elsewhere, still running, still torn in the two directions Walker’s innocuous question about Munroe’s identity had sent him.
Having nothing to answer the first, he shifted to the second: If something happened to Munroe, Logan’s number was the emergency contact in her wallet. No first name, no last name, just Logan. He was her surrogate brother, soul mate, partner in crime, the man whose history was nearly as convoluted as her own and who guarded her back as fiercely as she guarded his.
Bradford checked his watch. Checked his phone. Ten minutes, if that, since he’d watched Munroe take the bike down with her fall. Still early if he meant to start tracking, but that didn’t matter. He pulled from speed dial the number known to few, the phone Logan always carried and almost certainly answered.
Called and was sent directly to voice mail.
Bradford hung up without leaving a message.
Thumbed through the contacts for Tabitha, Munroe’s eldest sister, hit call, and then ended it before the dialing began. No one in Munroe’s family had any idea of the life she led off the grid and she took care to shield them and leave nothing that would trace back to them. It was still too soon for this kind of call, and he wasn’t ready to step into the resulting quagmire of explanations if Tabitha
should happen to pick up. Needed to script a plausible cover story first.